The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) has deemed it better for restoration of the vintage Qantas Boeing 707 gifted by Hollywood actor John Travolta to be done right, rather than done right now.
However, while the arrival of the aircraft may be some time away still, HARS representatives are confident they will be able to keep it flying long after it touches down in Albion Park.
Three HARS members returned from a trip to the US in July to check progress and new issues found with the Qantas jet, determining that trying to fast-track its restoration wouldn’t benefit the aircraft in the long term.
The aircraft, which is being worked on by two aviation companies in Brunswick, Georgia on behalf of HARS, was the last of Qantas’ 707s and has had a variety of owners, including Frank Sinatra and John Travolta.
“The last owner was Travolta, who likes flying and apparently he’s not a bad pilot,” HARS media and marketing team coordinator Ian Badham said.
“He then became a Qantas ambassador and had it painted up in Qantas colours again, and flew it around the world and promoted Qantas.
“It got to the point where it really needed a lot of work done to it, to the point where it was just totally uneconomic to do it.
“He basically flew it into an airport and said, ‘OK, that’s it. It’s all off to the scrap heap’.”
Travolta had relationships with HARS members and visited occasionally to fly HARS’ aircraft, which led to him donating the aircraft to the not-for-profit organisation in 2017.
The goal was to fix it up enough to get a permit to fly it to Shellharbour, where further restoration work could be completed by members.
However, Ian said COVID-19 prevented members from visiting the jet, during which time those on the ground in Georgia uncovered further corrosion.
For example, the pylons, which create some distance between the engine and the wing, had corrosion.
After much searching, one pylon was found.
“Boeing, who made them originally, had to remanufacture three of them at massive expense,” he said.
President Bob De La Hunty and two other members visited last month to discuss further issues found.
“It was the second group from here to go over in the last few months to check it all out,” Ian said.
“Their recommendation was just cut it in pieces, ship it out here, and put it on display.
“Finally, after multiple people and Bob sitting down with them, he said, ‘We don’t do that. We fly planes where we can. And this one, we fly’.”
He said the Georgia companies told the HARS trio, “Look, we can do it right or we can do it now, but we can’t do it right, now.”
He said all parties agreed to put it through a complete restoration process to meet the full American Aviation FAA certification, so it will stay on FAA registration.
“It will fly here on its American registration and continue to fly because it will be fully air worthy,” he said.
Most HARS aircraft were on a limited category permit, which allowed HARS members only to be aboard the aircraft when flying.
“So that’s the big news, is that we can now guarantee that this 7-0, which is the last of the Qantas 707s and the last of the hot rods as they call them, when it gets here, she will continue to fly,” Ian said.
“We’ll take it around to air shows and special events and we’ll attract a huge amount of attention, mostly because of Travolta, but also because of the fact that in the aviation world, because it’s the last of the hot rods and the last of the Qantas 7-0s, that’s really big news.
“But for most people, they want to see the big Travolta bed down the back, with or without a cardboard cutout of Travolta,” he said, laughing.
While it will take money and time, Ian said it would be done.
“The engines will be fully spec’d, the airframe will be cleared fully so it meets the FAA certification and, that way, it will continue to fly,” he said.
“It hasn’t had a huge life, so it’s got a lot of aviation life left in it.”
He said while it would likely be a few years before it touched down in Albion Park, Travolta was still keen to be on board the last leg for when it flew into Shellharbour airport.
“It was going to be 2019 when it happened – I remember it was just before COVID,” he said.
“He was due to come here to Australia for some promotional thing that he was doing.”
He said while the aircraft wasn’t anywhere near ready then, Travolta still turned up.
“He came here, had a flight in the (resurrected aircraft Super Constellation) Connie, came back and landed and then he just sat around chatting with people,” he said.
“Apparently, he’s one of the few film people who actually does sit around and chat to people, which is highly unusual.
“It could easily be a couple of years before it’s here, but it will be huge when it happens.
“It’ll be like when the 747 landed here with thousands of people – that’s what will happen here.”